Roosters crowing children growing, got big plans but dirty pants, with kids to teach life is sweet!
Of Simpsons and Smithsonian
July 19, 2010Posted by on
Before I left for Nepal, the day I registered this blog actually, I began working on a post called “Why Nepal?” It’s still in my drafts folder, and it will probably stay there. The real story wasn’t about why I chose Nepal anyway – it was about my family, and the moments that have a lasting effect on your perception of the world.
My parents instilled in me and my siblings an ability to empathize at a magnitude which I honestly do not see in the majority of people. Sometimes it’s frustrating and embarrassing – I cry at the drop of a hat. NPR broadcasts, magazine pictures, episodes of The Simpsons (for real – the one where Homer can’t play the video game as well as Bart and he feels like a failure made me bawl). I even cried while reading a book about the man who developed the metric system. Who reads a book about that – much less cries while reading it?
I don’t know how they did it, but they did. My heart ached for kids that were teased at school. I had to make sure that all my baby dolls and stuffed animals were on my bed and touching when we left for vacation, so that they wouldn’t get lonely or scared being stuffed in the dark of the toy chest. When George Bush was elected for a second term I was one of those people who wanted to leave the country, not so much in protest, but because I felt like if I didn’t physically distance myself from his leadership I would never be able to face a person from Iraq or Afghanistan, knowing what we had done to their countries, and that we knowingly elected for it to continue.
My parents also instilled in me a love of learning. They raised me to love words, to love describing things. I loved playing games with them (the town I first lived in was so small there weren’t really kids my age) even though I always lost (no handicaps, even for toddlers) because it was fun to try to figure out what they were talking about, and to feel like an equal. I’m pretty sure if we could have had only one book in the house, my Dad would have chosen a dictionary. No bibles, no crime novels or historical biographies – just a reference book to help you discover ways to say (and think) exactly what you wanted.
But the greatest gift my parents gave to me, and I believe the single most important skill I will ever possess, was the ability to think critically and independently. I didn’t fully realize what a priceless gift this was until a few years ago, when I became increasingly disillusioned by our country’s foreign policies and (to put it in what I think are very magnanimous terms) ill-advised and misguided “nation building” efforts. My parents taught me the importance of “Why” and they practiced what they preached. Most of the time, our house was a democracy. There weren’t a lot of “Because I said so” answers given. We were allowed to dispute (respectfully) our parents’ directions and ideas.
There were probably times my parents thought they had created a monster. For instance when I came home and told my Dad, a federal border patrol agent, that he was addicted to drugs because he smoked cigarettes. I think many would agree with me that this is an accurate statement, but quite a precocious one for a 7 year old to make. Or the stand off between my mother and I over whether I would make my Confirmation to the Catholic church. In the end I didn’t because I argued that I would be lying to her and everyone else in the church, which would be disrespectful and make a mockery of her faith. It must have been embarrassing for her to have a daughter that openly proclaimed in youth group on Wednesday nights that she didn’t believe in God and demanded evidence for why others did, especially since she was a teacher at the school. But she let me be a thinking person, for better or for worse. For that I will never be able to repay her.
The moments that led me to Nepal are these: sitting at the kitchen table with my father, looking at pictures from an article in The Smithsonian, depicting starving children in northern Africa in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I asked why they didn’t get lunch at school, and he told me there was no school for these kids. A little unsteady, I asked him if they didn’t have school, where did they get books to read. He told me they didn’t have books, and they didn’t know how to read. That statement made my head spin. It had never occurred to me that there were kids in the world who didn’t have schools, or books. I had assumed everyone knew how to read – it was, of course, the most important thing next to breathing. Of course, I cried on cue. I was deeply unsettled by my first exposure to the inequity of the world, and what I now refer to as “geography as fate.”
The second moment is of my mother teaching the children of migrant workers in Del Rio, TX. Kids that had truly been “left behind” as a result of their transient lifestyle, in the 4th grade many of them were still completely illiterate. My mother believed in them, and with a dedication to the idea of self-actualization through education that only my mother could have (you only need to have spoken to her for 5 minutes to know how ferociously devoted she is to it) she brought the lowest child in the class from not being able to write her name to reading on level at the end of the year. My mother showed me that inequity and injustice aren’t a reason to give up. No child is a lost cause.
That’s really why I am here. Often times I have wondered what my Dad would say if he were still alive. There are lots of things I’m sure we wouldn’t agree on, but I know he would see the value of giving others the chance we all deserve – the chance to learn to think for ourselves.
I know now why I never finished what should have been my first blog post. Today, July 19th, was the day to tell the story of my family. I am sharing this with my friends and family, and the entire internet I guess, because I am so proud of how I grew up and the family I have.
Happy Birthday to my sister Laura who turns 26 today. She is a girl with an amazing heart, a stellar work ethic, and an unmatched ability to think of others before herself.
To my father Peter, who died on July 19th seventeen years ago, and to my mother Regina, – I don’t know how you did what you did, but I am so thankful for it. Thank you for giving me the life I have.